Last fall Hamilton City councillors, without a dissenting vote, asked staff to find additional ways of reaching out to more Hamiltonians to share their experiences with hate in the community. The order came as council was reviewing a consultant’s report aimed at developing a Council-led anti-hate strategy.
To understand the scope of the problem the consultant had executed a multi-pronged public engagement process that among other things consisted of:
• A facilitated 90-minute session with the Mayor’s Advisory Table on Diversity and Inclusion on June 26, 2020 via Zoom.
• Meetings with relevant City staff, the Mayor and five Councillors, and nine diverse community leaders to gather input and advice on the community engagement plan (December 2019 and January 2020).
• An online survey to inaugurate the use of EngagementHQ software on EngageHamilton, open for one month from mid-June to mid-July 2020. The online survey was promoted through social media and ads in the Spectator as well as direct contact through email distribution lists. 91 people took the survey out of 608 people who visited the page. The consultant noted that having to provide a name and email address had limited participation.
• Five 90-minute facilitated community “Listening Sessions” held between June 29 and July 9, 2020, conducted via Zoom. Input taken from audio recording and chat transcript. The Listening Sessions were promoted using the same methods as the online survey. The Listening Sessions were attended by 154 residents as follows: General Public (62 participants), Racialized (29), Indigenous (15), Faith Leaders (15) and 2SLGBTQ+ (33)
Despite the widespread promotion of the survey and the listening sessions council last September felt more people should be consulted so they asked staff to come up with recommendations to get more people involved.
Wednesday the General Issues committee was asked to approve a recommendation to conduct a public opinion survey costing $25,000 that would gather 600 responses. Some councillors wanted to have input into the framing of the questions, an idea that Sage Consultants Principal Rebecca Sutherns flatly stated would be a bad idea. She gently told council that even if they were all experts on public polling it would be a bad idea…but since none of them are…their active participation in questionnaire framing was not recommended.
With that blunt assessment council appeared to quickly sour on the whole survey idea and voted against the data collection that they had approved by a 13-0 count last September. The consultant will conduct an addition 100 interviews to try to top up the data already received. Clr. Nann whose motion led to the proposal to conduct the survey now expressed a preference to stick with people who have a personal story to tell about hate rather than try to engage the broader public.